Monthly Archives: March 2014

Rejection

Spoiler alert:  I didn’t make it into the Listen to Your Mother show.  Let’s just get that out of the way.  No sugar coating.  I’ve included my H&D (hopes and dreams) for making it into this show in at least four blog posts so far, so if you’ve been following along on the edge of your seat, now you can relax and move on with your lives, just like I have to do.

(My guess is that most will say, Listen to Your Mother show?  Never heard of it.)

Yesterday, when I knew I would be hearing from the LTYM production team today, I felt a sense of vertigo from the height of my hopes.  All day, my legs felt rubbery and my heart was faintly surging.  I knew I had set myself in a precarious spot, teetering on the edge of desperate desire while peering into the abyss created by insanely wishing for something that was so out of my control.  Yet it was a familiar feeling.

After I had my two sons almost twenty-two years ago, I was filled with a desire I could not quench; not just for a daughter, as you might assume, but for a third child.  Howie was satisfied with our two wild, healthy boys.  I wanted one more.

I thank God every day not only that my wish for a third was granted, but that it was granted specifically in the form of Sophie.

I thought once my impossible dream of Sophie came true, I would be all done dreaming for the duration.  But dreams are like Doritos: Eat all you want; we’ll make more.

Wanting something so badly you can taste it, as the old cliche goes, is a double-edged sword (as another cliche goes), to be sure.  This longing is both dangerous and life-affirming.  Allowing yourself this form of want is not for the risk-averse.  And there’s a stubborn vitality in wanting, especially wanting something against all odds.  I can’t even calculate the odds that went into the arrival of Sophie or my other two beloved children.

The odds for the Listen to Your Mother show, on the other hand, are calculable.  Of 75 submissions, 40 pieces were chosen for auditions (I should feel good about making that first cut, I know) and about a dozen were chosen for the show.

I left the audition last Saturday feeling optimistic.  I had done everything in my power to deliver my best performance.  I had practiced my piece so many times I nearly memorized it.  Two days beforehand, I drove to the Washburn Public Library, where the auditions were to be held, and practiced reading at the podium in the room where we were to read.  The morning of the audition, I watched a TED talk by Amy Cuddy entitled  “Your body language shapes who you are”.  Following Cuddy’s advice, I struck the most powerful pose of them all in the mirror in the library bathroom just before being escorted into the meeting room to read my piece in front of the team of judges.

Whenever we admit we want something on this earth, we are saying, I’m alive!  And, I’m willing to lay it on the line!  I see tremendous things to be had in this crazy, exquisite, harrowing world that are worth staking my hopes on, that are worth my best efforts and devotion, that are worth fighting for or risking my pride or my safety to pursue!

And then there is the question of why do we want the particular things we want?  This is a question I’ve been asking myself about this show; why did I lock on this particular opportunity above all others?

Here’s some of what I came up with yesterday, when the pressure of anticipation boiled up inside me and this spilled out onto the page,

I really, really want this.  I want to be acknowledged in my “sweet spot” (my subject: motherhood, my genre: personal essay, my hometown).  I want that feeling of a gold medal performance when it really matters.  I want to feel elation and success and VISIBLE and HEARD and like a real artist and a master of my craft.  I want to buy a new dress and shoes, and feel I’ve earned them as a reward for the good work I’ve done.  I want to stand up there and I want to project.  I want to model for my kids that all that talk about going for your dreams is something you can do all your life, and that it’s not just something I say, it’s something I do.

When I first started learning to write, one of my neighbors stopped by and found me in my porch, reading.  I shared with him my aspirations for writing a memoir.  He said, smugly, “So you hope to write the great American novel?”  I said no, but I didn’t draw the distinction between a work of creative nonfiction and a “novel”, which is a work of fiction.  He said, “I would rather die thinking that I could have written a great book, than try to write one and fail.”  In response to that logic (and in the words of clergyman Robert Schuller) I say, “I’d rather attempt to do something great and fail than attempt to do nothing and succeed.”

I’m not feeling heroic, today, don’t get me wrong.  It hurts to be rejected.  In fact, the brain registers rejection like physical pain, according to psychologist Guy Winch (http://www.salon.com/2013/07/23/rejection_is_more_powerful_than_you_think/), in an article called, “Rejection is more powerful than you think”.  Here’s an excerpt,

“…why do rejections hurt so much more than other emotional wounds?

The answer lies in our evolutionary past. Humans are social animals; being rejected from our tribe or social group in our pre-civilized past would have meant losing access to food, protection, and mating partners, making it extremely difficult to survive. Being ostracized would have been akin to receiving a death sentence. Because the consequences of ostracism were so extreme, our brains developed an early-warning system to alert us when we were at risk for being “voted off the island” by triggering sharp pain whenever we experienced even a hint of social rejection.

And since we are social animals, we look to those closest to us for comfort.

I knew I was going to be notified by email of my status with the LTYM show first thing this morning, so I checked my computer and sure enough received my toughest news of this day by 6:01 a.m.

“What’s going on?” Howie came down to find me at my “desk” at the dining room table.  “You didn’t even watch the weather.  You’re throwing off your whole schedule.”

That’s what devastating disappointment can do to a person.

I appreciate how gingerly my husband handles me, emotionally, when he knows I’m hurt.  Even Sophie broke her 24-hour silent treatment of me (I pissed her off yesterday, in this case, by something I didn’t do) and offered me–under her breath and on her way out the door–a relatively sincere,

“Sorry you didn’t make it into the show.”

My father had requested that I call right away once I heard, but I waited till 8 a.m. to call him.

“I’m sorry.”  he said, “You really wanted it.”  For his part, it’s hard standing helplessly by and watching your kids suffer a huge let-down.  I know.  We all know.

“But like we’ve talked about,” he continued, fatherly, “you can learn things from disappointment that you can’t learn from success.”

And then he went on to list all the famous people–among them, Steve Jobs and Albert Einstein (I always appreciate the theoretical company he has me keep)–who have experienced rejection before experiencing the breakthroughs for which they are so famous.

Artists, in particular, seem to suffer from chronic non-recognition and some of the greats, from complete obscurity.  My dad reminded me that many creators don’t achieve their due until long after they’re dead.  He spoke of manuscripts being discovered and gaining wide acclaim after the author is long gone.  I would like to ask, if such a fate awaits me, that someone dig me up or otherwise let me know I finally made it.

The one thing we cannot be rejected from is our own journey.  Whatever pain we experience via rejections along our way, we will bounce like a pinball off the bumpers, adjust our course and keep rolling along.

Poet and essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising up every time we fail.”

In my case, I will search for a suitable home for the yoga-inspired piece I submitted to the Listen to Your Mother producers.  One of the three producers was actually kind enough to include a personal note at the bottom of my rejection notice, which read,

“As a fellow yogi and treasurer of moments, I so related to your heart and your words and am so grateful that you shared both with us. Please know that this was a ridiculously hard decision and really — and truly — came down to how each piece fit together. Please let me know if you want to talk. I’m here.”

This compassionate gesture rescued my hopes from being smashed beyond recognition.  Her words are like a salve upon the rejection that, like the psychologist said earlier, registered on contact like physical pain.

And then there was the long-distance text from my friend Christine, who is out in Hollywood at the moment, and picked a quote from Rocky–one uttered by Rocky Balboa, himself- in her attempts to soothe me,

“Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place and I don’t care how tough you are it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard ya hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done!”

Novelist Samuel Beckett said, “Ever tried.  Ever failed.  No matter.  Try again.  Fail again.  Fail better.”  I am already planning to try out again next year for Listen to Your Mother.  I’m sure next year I will fail even better.

Or dare I believe I may even succeed?

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Emerald City

The “W” in AWP doesn’t stand for Wizard, but when I followed the Yellow Brick Road  from my hotel in downtown Seattle to the Washington Convention Center for the AWP (Association of Writers and Writing Programs) Conference a couple weeks ago, I was in search of something.  Seattle is considered a “green” city and for three days in early March it became my Emerald City.  Like Dorothy, I had been lifted into the sky (by a plane, not a tornado), landed on top of a wicked force that needed to be crushed and sought the help of writing wizards before clicking my heels and heading back home, essentially the same as when I started, but a little more grown up.

There are a number of theories (http://www.vulture.com/2013/03/wizard-of-oz-theories-gold-standard-feminist-religion-jung.html?mid=imdb) as to what The Wizard of Oz is really about.  Is it a parable on Populism and American Monetary Policy?  Is it a religious, atheist, or feminist allegory or an embodiment of characters found in Jung’s psychoanalytic theory?  Maybe it’s just a magical screen adaptation of a children’s fairy tale that we Boomers grew up watching and has become so much a part of our psyches that it’s called to mind through certain of our own transformative journeys.

Entering the convention center on the first morning of the conference, I joined my fellow seekers riding the gleaming gold escalators up to the third floor of the massive modern structure.  At the top, a panorama of spring greenery spread out before us just beyond the floor-to-ceiling glass panes enclosing the airy complex.  There was, at once, an industriousness amongst us Munchkins (funny how 12,000 people can be dwarfed inside such a monstrous edifice) and a jubilant energy among the legion of conference-goers, each on our own, individual missions.

I’ve been chasing my dream of becoming a writer, like Dorothy chased Toto.  When the Wicked Witch of insecurity threatened to snatch my dream, I summoned all my strength–and enlisted the help of some allies–to protect it.  Along the way, I wondered if I had the brains, the heart or the courage to complete my journey.

On my first journey to AWP in Chicago, two years ago, my lack of confidence made me easy prey for the flying monkeys of my fears; what was I doing among all these accomplished writers?  Did I have what it takes to become a writer and teacher myself?  Is it possible to dream of becoming something this late in life, and grow into a greater, more powerful version of myself?  Or for me, is there truly no place like home; no higher calling than creating a home and family?

Writer Anne Lamott was not in attendance at AWP.  But one thing she said about writing in her best-seller, Bird by Bird; Some Instructions on Writing and Life (the book that made me want to write), wasWriting can be a pretty desperate endeavor, because it is about some of our deepest needs: our need to be visible, to be heard, our need to make sense of our lives, to wake up and grow and belong.”

On this year’s journey, I attended a session Friday afternoon, the second of the three-day conference, entitled Memoir with a View: On Bringing the Outside In.  The session description read “Some critics label memoirs mere navel gazing…In memoir, the “I” is a strong presence, building and shaping the narrative, but the broader perspective is that of someone gazing out a window rather than peering into a mirror.  The “I” reflects an image in a windowpane as we superimpose ourselves upon the wider world…personal stories engage with social, cultural and political realities.” 

Another “W”, then, has to do with defending nonfiction writers against the accusation we often face as being “navel-gazing” narcissists.  One speaker suggested me-moir should be called we-moir, since the memoirist is ultimately after larger, more universal human truths. I jotted down the speaker’s perspective, “Gazing at our navels is considered bad.  Gazing at our stock portfolio’s is considered ‘American’.”  This, like the tale of Oz, is another comment on American monetary policy.  Sometimes, our culture values a relationship with material wealth above the relationships we have with ourselves and other humans.

Before this memoir session started, I approached one panelist, a soft-spoken Latina (who shall remain nameless) with a PhD, three books and many other writing and teaching credits to her name.  I remembered seeing her on a panel several years ago at a nonfiction workshop in Iowa.

First, I complimented her on her new, short haircut.  Her hair is thick and black, and shines with blues and purples like an oil slick. It was not her shiny hair, however, but a shining from within her that drew my attention.

“I feel something different coming from you this time than the last time I saw you,” I said, “I sense a larger presence,” I continued to venture more boldly, “You really seem to be inhabiting yourself more fully.”

What chutzpah!  What a brazen thing to say to a stranger!

Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!

“You know, it’s interesting that you say that!  I’ve been working with a life coach lately.  She helped my sister-in-law overcome her fear of flying.  I was afraid to fly, too.  They say a fear of flying is actually a fear of success, which itself can be a fear of being seen.”

Dazzled by her candid reply, I continued, “It’s interesting, the things we hide behind.  You can hide behind long hair, you can hide behind your weight (which I’ve done) and now I’m starting to wonder if you can hide behind your kids.  I’m writing about emptying my nest and am starting to realize I may have been hiding inside motherhood all these years…”

This lovely woman, a mother herself, said, “Motherhood can be very self-effacing, which can be appropriate…”

And then we were interrupted, as mothers and writers often are.  But before she took her seat on the panel, she turned back to me and said,

“What a serendipitous conversation!”

It’s amazing the magic that is sparked when we follow our instincts and step out of our own way.

Dorothy made her journey to the Emerald City in her ruby slippers.  She had the means of making her own wish come true in her possession all along.  Similarly, the Scarecrow had his brain, the Tin Man, his heart, and the Lion, his courage.

On the other end of the self-awareness spectrum, sat the Wizard himself, behind his metaphorical curtain.  He knew he was just an ordinary man, but claimed for himself a persona both great and powerful.

There are those of us who claim too little of ourselves, looking to others to bestow upon us what we already have.  And there are others who are willing to fake it till they make it; those who claim more for themselves than they are in hopes of convincing others of their inflated worth.

The final session I attended captured, for me, the power of writing more than all the other craft, process or marketing sessions, combined.  It was a reading of selected pieces from Fourth Genre, one of the original creative nonfiction literary magazines.  Each of three outside writers was paired with an editor on the journal’s staff.  The staff writers each wrote a piece of their own, inspired by one that the contributors had submitted.

One of the first to read was a stocky woman, dressed in jeans and a cowboy shirt, sporting short-cropped, salt-and-pepper hair.  She read her coming-out story, back in the days “Before Ellen, before DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act)…” with the passion and humor of a story told straight from the heart and gut.

The staff writer inspired by her story was a young woman who wrote about her own coming-out among the street kids in what she described as the youth-center culture.  She concluded her story with a reflection, something to the effect, “If my older self could go back and talk to my younger self, I would assure her that everything would turn out O.K.”.

I noticed tears welling in the eyes of the older woman, sitting next to this younger one as she finished at the lectern, undoubtedly reminded of her own painful coming-out, both into herself and into the world for all she was.  I saw her catch the younger woman’s eye as she sat down, and saw her mouth the words, “That was fucking fantastic!”

I left this session in tears, myself.

Perhaps if we see ourselves as others see us–or even better, as we wish to be seen–we can go after whatever dreams we dare to dream for ourselves.

This blog has been my coming-out story.  In the last six months, I’ve written almost 80 posts.  I turned in the first half just before Thanksgiving to meet my Thesis 1 requirement and the second half the week I left for AWP to meet the requirement for Thesis 2.  Since returning from AWP, I wrote and turned in a twenty-page Artist Statement.  I guess writing an Artist Statement is evidence I’m becoming the artist I am seeking to become.

This coming Monday, I meet with my advisor and secondary reader in a conference formerly known as a thesis defense (now referred to as a Capstone Conference, to make us feel less defensive).  And finally, tomorrow is my audition for my highly sought-after spot in the Listen to Your Mother show line-up.

I’ve found a new home, just beyond the comforts of the one I’ve been living in all these years.  Now, I’ll close my eyes, click my heels together and repeat,

“There’s no place like home.  There’s no place like home.”

After all, home is where the heart (and brain and courage) is.